Big Ten

Illini AD Mike Thomas responds to Simon Cvijanovic's claims

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Illini AD Mike Thomas responds to Simon Cvijanovic's claims

Mike Thomas is taking Simon Cvijanovic’s accusations toward Tim Beckman and the Illinois football program very seriously. But according to Thomas, the picture being painted by Cvijanovic is vastly different than what Thomas has heard from Cvijanovic’s teammates.

Thomas, the Illinois athletics director, spoke to the media for about 25 minutes Monday afternoon in the wake of Cvijanovic's hours long series of tweets Sunday night and Monday alleging that Beckman abuses and bullies his players while mistreating and sometimes simply not caring about their injuries.

While Cvijanovic has cast Beckman as a name-calling bully who threatens to take players’ scholarships from them and fills their heads with propaganda, Thomas supported the head football coach during his teleconference, saying that players and parents of players have nothing but good things to say about Beckman.

[MORE BIG TEN: Ex-Illini OL Simon Cvijanovic blasts Tim Beckman on Twitter]

“What I would say as it relates to coach Beckman is that he’s really been personally attacked since this episode started,” Thomas said. “He’s put the welfare of this young man above everything else. The feedback I get from these players and these players’ families is that these coaches genuinely care for them and treat them like their own children.

“We do exit interview with our student athletes, and the feedback from our student-athlete exit interviews doesn’t correspond from what we’re hearing from Simon.

“The feedback we get on our exit interviews for those kids who exhaust their eligibility, from the families of the kids that have played here, their parents, the kids themselves, I think they talk a lot about the family atmosphere with the program. I think they talk about the culture. I think they talk about the caring of our coaches, not just coach Beckman but of our staff as it relates to their well being. I’ve never had an indication of anything different form that as it relates to student athletes and their family, including their parents.”

Cvijanovic, the former Illini offensive lineman who left the team in the middle of last season, accused Beckman, his coaching staff and the program’s medical staff of lying to him about surgical procedures, forcing him to play while injured, telling him to stop taking medication and vilifying players who were injured.

[MORE BIG TEN: In report, ex-Illini Cvijanovic details Beckman accusations]

Monday, Thomas refused to focus on Cvijanovic’s specific case or any specific case and instead painted with a broad brush while talking about the integrity of the athletics department’s medical staff.

“We’ve reviewed all medical policies and feel confident we are following the proper communication protocols,” Thomas said. “Our medical staff fully documents all interactions with our student athletes. We feel very confident in the way our medical staff handles their business. And our student-athlete well being and their safety is absolutely our No. 1 concern.”

Thomas spoke about Cvijanovic, describing him as a “good kid” who always treated him personally with respect. He called Cvijanovic’s tweets surprising, and though he refused to get into specifics about how the department would investigate the matter — saying only that he would “follow up” — he indicated that he would be looking into the allegations in some fashion, saying his department was receiving assistance from the chancellor’s office.

“There’s no doubt, very serious,” Thomas said of the accusations. “I think any time that there’s allegations made as it relates to the — once again going back to the safety, health and well being of our student athletes, I think is something that we need to pay attention to, absolutely. And in saying that, I’m very confident in the professionals who are on the front lines dealing with our student athletes.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Ex-Illini Cvijanovic keeps tweeting, compares Beckman to Kim Jong-un]

Through it all, though, Thomas continued to maintain that Beckman is viewed in a very positive light by his players and players’ families, commending Beckman for how he’s handled the situation thus far. The only communication from the head football coach to the media was a statement released Sunday night clarifying how Cvijanovic departed from the team.

“I think he’s dealt with it with grace,” Thomas said of Beckman. “My conversations with Tim since this came out yesterday afternoon, I think his focus was still on the kid. We talked about the fact that he’s still in school and he needs to get a University of Illinois degree, but that’s really where his focus was, on the well being of that particular student athlete.”

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.